Why I Like the Russian Protests More Than the #OWS

I don’t think that the protests in Russia are going to achieve anything major in the nearest future. Putin is still going to win the next Presidential “elections” in Russia. Even if the elections are not falsified (which, as we all realize, is not likely), he will still win. Most people still like him (these are the folks who don’t read newspapers or blogs and only watch official pro-Putin channels on television). Besides, there is no opposition to speak of at the moment.

If we are to see any tangible results of the Russian protests, we will have to wait for a few years. It will take a while for viable opposition forces to emerge and produce their own leaders.

Still, I am a lot more enthusiastic about the Russian protests than I am about the #OWS. These are both middle-class movements. However, the peaceful Russian revolution of 2011 never pretended to be what it wasn’t. Its participants calmly explain in interviews, on their blogs and social networks that they are comfortably off, well-to-do, middle-class folks who are fed up with how their country is run. They don’t beg anybody for compassion. And they don’t regale us with stories of how they have wonderful, comfortable, debt-free lives but still “live in bated breath” because of some imaginary disasters. Most importantly, there is no swapping of tales of personal woe and misery that the #OWS protesters enjoy so much and that, more often than not, are inflated dramatically. For obvious reasons, the religious vocabulary that bothers me so much at the #OWS is also absent among Russian political agitators of the moment.

The Russian protesters say that they want to be in charge of their country’s politics. They talk about democracy, the voting system, the ways in which the currently existing parties are flawed, the way the budget is structured, the reasons why they are disappointed with Putin, the ways they evaluate the history of their country over the past 20 years. I have not read a single account, blog post, newspaper article, interview, etc. where a protester would plunge into a tale of his or her debts, employment history, educational achievements, sickness, marriages, etc. as part of his or her analysis of the political situation.

As we all know, personal is political. The way we live our lives is intimately connected to our politics. However, it would be a mistake to turn this statement around and say that political is personal. When politics becomes nothing but a bunch of personal narratives, we end up with a political reality where people elect presidents on the basis of their attractions as beer-drinking buddies, politicians’ personal lives matter a lot more than their policies, and a candidate’s success is defined by whether she can cry on cue or whether he bowls well. Only too often, the #OWS protesters approach the political arena as if it were a stage for a reality TV show, a place where personal dramas are to be aired for no other purpose than to allow an Oprahesque unburdening of emotions to occur.

Another reason why I prefer Russian protests to the #OSW is that the Russian protesters do not attempt to pretend they are proletarians when, in reality, they are middle-class folks. The vogue of brandishing fake working-class credentials is associated in Russia with the decades of the Communist regime. This is why nowadays people see nothing shameful in being financially comfortable.

The #OWS protesters, however, are tortured with middle-class guilt. This is why their “we are all in the same boat” slogans sound so hollow. I remember how my union organizer tried to convince me that he and I did not differ in any way from a truck-driver. At that time, he and I were students at one of the most prestigious grad schools in the world. We had great medical insurance, only had to teach for 50 minutes a day, and rarely woke up before noon. Unlike my union organizer, I hadn’t been born rich, so I didn’t feel any need to mask the silver spoon in my mouth by claiming I knew anything about the reality of truck-drivers.

This is, however, precisely what the #OWS does. Its middle-class participants mask their middle-class concerns behind the rhetoric of fake solidarity with the dispossessed. They self-righteously compete in producing stories of misery because they seem to believe that only misery entitles you to an opinion and to activism.

When the Russian protesters talk about their participation in the revolutionary movement, they always begin by explaining how they are entitled to be in charge of their country because of their success in running their lives, careers, companies, blogs, bank accounts, etc. The #OWS protesters, on the other hand, proudly claim failure as their chief qualification for the role of political activists.

12 thoughts on “Why I Like the Russian Protests More Than the #OWS”

  1. I didn’t want to be the first to comment because I know so little about current goings-on in Russia. I do have a question, however. You say, I don’t think that the protests in Russia are going to achieve anything major in the nearest future. What about the less immediate future? Next year or five years hence?

    As I quite vaguely understand (or misunderstand) the political situation there, the largest opposition block includes the nationalists and Communists, apparently little different. Will Russia likely revert to a more repressive Stalinist regime, or are there at least reasonable grounds to hope for a bit more democracy and freedom?

    Like

    1. Many people voted for the Communists in the most recent elections for the simple reason that there was no other viable choice. The Russian electoral law is set up in a way that voting for any party not likely to get over 7% of the total vote would have handed these votes directly to the ruling party. This is why many people who had been dissidents during the Soviet era and had been jailed by Communists were forced to vote for the Communists this time, as paradoxical as that sounds.

      I don’t think that the Communists have a genuine shot at power, however.

      At this point, I think it’s important that people have started awakening and realizing that there is no actual democracy in Russia. The democratic process of exchanging opinions and forming parties is only beginning right now. I hope that within the next 4-5 years this process will lead to the emergence of a few truly democratic parties that will be organized by citizens who will not be tainted by any association with the Communists and the KGB.

      Right now seems like the most hopeful moment in Russian politics since 1991 because at least there is a significant portion of people who do not worship Putin and his KGB-era policies and who are becoming politically active. Finally, the people of Russia have arrived at an understanding that falsified elections are wrong.

      Like

  2. “The #OWS protesters, on the other hand, proudly claim failure as their chief qualification for the role of political activists.”

    The Russians will get there eventually, no doubt.

    i.e. you are comparing apples and oranges.

    And no one is “proudly” claiming failure, what gives you that idea that people are proud? Should they be ashamed? This blog post (I mean diary entry) reminds me of those compare/contrast essays my students wrote: make one example look as bad as possible, make the other look as good as possible and then declare that you like the good one better, so it is obviously correct.

    Also, I have heard a ton of actual non-personal analysis related to the OWS protests. You seem to have a personal obsession with putting down the protestors on a personal level (how much in debt is the average Russian btw?) which I suppose is appropriate since this is a diary entry.

    Like

    1. —how much in debt is the average Russian btw

      Much less than the average American, of course. The question is – who forced the average American to be so much in debt? One is not required to aspire to the same standards of living one’s parents had, or to own a house, or to own most of the things which result in credit card debt, etc.
      I know that because I live in North America and my debt is several thousand dollars. I support tougher regulations for financial institutions, but I do not pretend to be destitute or to be working-class…

      Like

      1. Well don’t you sound like a fine, upstanding person.

        Here’s my question. If all those Russian protestors had been exchanged for the American protestors at birth, would the two groups be doing anything different today? Or you and one of the OWS protestors?

        And the American protests are way more complex than you are making them out to be. And in some cities they are already effectively working directly with City Hall. Things are still evolving while you are focused on these “whiners” you keep holding up as typical examples.

        I think it is generally true that people see what they want to see, and seek to affirm their own superiority at every opportunity.

        Like

      2. ” The question is – who forced the average American to be so much in debt? One is not required to aspire to the same standards of living one’s parents had, or to own a house, or to own most of the things which result in credit card debt, etc.”

        – Exactly. And the most frustrating thing is that people either blame the lenders or the borrowers. For some reason, the position where one would say, “The lenders were criminal and the borrowers were irresponsible and between them they tanked the economy” is not popular. I don’t get why that is at all.

        Like

      3. Isabel,
        —If all those Russian protestors had been exchanged for the American protestors at birth,

        I never said the difference was genetic. 🙂 🙂 But I have to agree with you – if someone would lend as much money to the Russians as they lend to the Americans, most Russians would take it. So the difference between Russian protestors and OWS is not cultural, it is mainly due to two societies being at different stages of economic development.
        Which does not negate Clarissa’s main point – that a bunch of middle-class hippies pretending to be destitute working class look like hypocrites and maybe for that very reason torpedo the movement which they claim to promote. A demonstration of laid-off steel workers of Pittsburgh would look much more to the point, and will be taken much more seriously.

        Like

  3. No political agent scares the shit out of me more than the one who claims their success in life is what qualifies them for being an activist, having an opinion, etc. I’d be a prime candidate for exclusion from whatever racket such people are trying to set up. Proudly proclaiming failure, assuming it is actually happening, not a good thing, but probably a lesser ēvĭl.

    Russians may have been propagandized to believe that working class and middle class are two different things, but Americans have been propagandized to believe just the opposite; even that social class doesn’t exist. An activist tendency that is a corrective in one society can be an amplifier of another society’s ills. It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing.

    If people who have fallen from the middle class aren’t authentically working class, then it follows that people who claw their way into middle class status/income from below are not authentically middle class.

    Like

    1. How is the prof with a big house and a great salary working class, exactly? These are the representatives of #OWS whom I accuse of hypocrisy over their claims of sharing the fate of the minimum-wage folks.

      “Proudly proclaiming failure, assuming it is actually happening, not a good thing, but probably a lesser ēvĭl.”

      – I don’t get this at all. Do you really want to support a political leader who fails all the time and is proud of it? What’s there to be proud of in failure? According to this logic, George W. Bush was the best president ever based on how totally inept he was.

      Like

  4. V :

    Which does not negate Clarissa’s main point – that a bunch of middle-class hippies pretending to be destitute working class look like hypocrites and maybe for that very reason torpedo the movement which they claim to promote. A demonstration of laid-off steel workers of Pittsburgh would look much more to the point, and will be taken much more seriously.

    Or a bunch of middle-class folks accepting who they are and manifesting to defend their interests instead of masking behind a fake concern for the dispossessed. That would also be very convincing.

    Since when is it shameful to be middle-class? Since when does one need to pretend to be on the brink of starvation to have a voice? In Liberal circles, if you want to insult somebody nowadays, just tell them that they are middle-class and educated. Then, they would start offering a bunch of lame excuses about how they are really not. This happened on Feministe just the other day, for example. Nobody even stopped to ask what is so wrong about being middle-class and educated? Should one strive to be uneducated? WTF?

    Like

    1. I will paraphrase Clarissa: “Why are you reading the blogs of and hanging out with all these weird people?”

      My experience of liberals and OWS protestors is not like this at all. And the whole point about the middle class is how much it has shrunk. And why shouldn’t those lucky enough to be in the middle class (for now) be protesting on the behalf of others? I don’t know about the particular professor you are talking about but tenure is very rare.

      There was just a news segment about Kodak closing and how a long term employee has lost all the benefits he worked 30 years for: his pension, insurance, etc. I know many people who lost great jobs and now are struggling through no fault of their own.

      I also find the defense of those who took advantage of naive fellow Russians, who had no understanding of capitalism and were anxious to not lose out on the benefits, strange. I would call it, along with the trends in the US that have benefited the top 1% in recent decades, however technically legal, extreme capitalism that is offensive to me as a liberal.

      Like

      1. “I will paraphrase Clarissa: “Why are you reading the blogs of and hanging out with all these weird people?””

        – The #OWS protesters, including the woman with colorful hair begging for compassion and the anxiety-ridden rich prof are not personally known to me. I also have no idea whether they have blogs. Please read carefully. And for Pete’s sake, stop paraphrasing. You are very bad at it.

        “And why shouldn’t those lucky enough to be in the middle class (for now) be protesting on the behalf of others”

        – As long as they don’t pretend to be those others, they definitely should.

        “I also find the defense of those who took advantage of naive fellow Russians, who had no understanding of capitalism and were anxious to not lose out on the benefits, strange.”

        – What benefits? What does this convoluted, weird sentence even mean? Isabel, can you please stop offering an opinion about a country you never visited, never learned anything about, and cannot form an informed opinion of?

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.